Law Is Hard; Prohibiting Critical Race Theory Is Bad Law

In the scheme of syllogism, the bogeyman of critical race theory has become the latest moral panic for which something must be done. Florida did something. They passed a law

Florida’s amendment takes an existing rule saying instruction “may not suppress or distort significant historical events, such as the Holcaust” [sic] and adds “slavery, the Civil War and Reconstruction, the civil rights movement and the contributions of women, African American and Hispanic people to our country.” The new language continues:

Examples of theories that distort historical events and are inconsistent with State Board approved standards include the denial or minimization of the Holocaust, and the teaching of Critical Race Theory, meaning the theory that racism is not merely the product of prejudice, but that racism is embedded in American society and its legal systems in order to uphold the supremacy of white persons. Instruction may not utilize material from the 1619 Project[.]

There is a weird line between what is historical fact and what is not. We can’t “fit” in all of American, no less world, history into the time frame available in public schools. Much of it is sanitized, whitewashed if you will, to make the nation and its birth more virtuous than it was. To accomplish this, myths were taught and warts were removed. And motives, both good and bad, were ascribed to our purposes that filled out hearts with pride at our goodness and alleviated our shame at our badness.

It’s understandable that history was taught this way. How do we keep our Republic if children are taught to loathe it? And to be fair, American democracy has served well and accomplished many great things. Bear in mind, this is history taught to young, impressionable minds, and if taught in a way that makes a nation terrible, unfair and hateful, how would they grow up to support it, to believe in it, to want to keep it?

On the other hand, it is at best an effort to form a “more perfect” union, and we’ve done many things that are terrible, unfair and hateful, from which we can learn to do better. If that’s not taught as well, we fail to learn from our past mistakes and may repeat them. But where is the line between teaching what we did right and what we did wrong? What is the right tipping point to appreciate the greatness of American democracy and the horrible treatment of blacks, native Americans, gays, unorthodox thinkers, immigrants and others who didn’t get a ticket on the Mayflower?

Supporters of the concept say it’s more about teaching through a lens of systemic racism and equity.

His push mirrors other conservative leaders across the country. About a dozen states — including Louisiana, Iowa, Rhode Island, West Virginia and Oklahoma — have introduced bills that would prevent teachers from teaching “divisive,” “racist,” or “sexist” concepts.

The fear underlying these initiatives is that teachers aren’t so much teaching about critical race theory, but indoctrinating young minds into the ideology behind it, that everything must be viewed through the lens of race and that systemic racism permeates every aspect of our society. Distinguishing between teaching a theoretical approach and indoctrinating students into believing that it is the only true view of history rather than one of many ways to appreciate historical fact is what’s really at issue.

Some teachers challenge the underlying notion that this is a problem at all.

“My question would be, why is he making such a stand to ban something, claiming that teachers are indoctrinating students, when this isn’t even in the schools?” she said. “He’s creating an issue where an issue doesn’t exist.”

Others argue that it’s impossible to teach history without it anymore.

The new restrictions come on the heels of heightened racial tensions following the killing of George Floyd.  David Hoppey, the director of the University of North Florida’s education program, said it would be nearly impossible for teachers to ignore what’s going on in society with their students.

“You cannot have civics without critical analysis and discussion about historical and current events,” he said, adding that critical race theory can be used to help a class better understand topics like dress code enforcement, voter suppression and more.

Still others argue that, perhaps unwittingly, that prohibiting CRT means students can’t be taught the “truth” because it is the truth.

The Anti-Defamation League has also voiced concerns with the new teaching standards.

“The rule requires that public schools provide factual and objective instruction on state-mandated subjects including, African American history, slavery, the Civil War and Reconstruction, the Holocaust, and the civil rights movement. Yet, it broadly prohibits any instruction about racism being ‘embedded in American society and its legal systems,” said Yael Hershfield, the Florida interim regional director.

Is racism “embedded in American society and its legal systems”? That’s the crux of the issue, and the Florida ADL’s Hershfield begs the question, which a great many proponents of progressive history tend to do.

But is Florida’s new law the solution? What does it prohibit? What does it allow? And can the state enact a law prohibiting the teaching of ideas because they do not adhere to the government’s orthodoxy?

DeSantis has notably called critical race theory the practice of “teaching kids to hate their country and to hate each other.”

There are few parents who would want their young children to come home from school believing that they are oppressors because of their skin color, or they are personally responsible for the evils perpetrated generations before they existed or arrived here, and have a personal duty to sacrifice in compensation for the way in which others were treated in this great nation. But then, slavery happened. The Tulsa Massacre happened. Neither ignoring nor denying them would be historically accurate or pedagogically sound.

Concerns about indoctrination aren’t false or wrong, and pretending that teaching young children to believe that America is the land of privilege and oppression won’t have a significant impact on how they view themselves and their country is foolish. But laws dictating what can be taught which put at risk historical fact that’s as much as part of our history as the glorification of national pride are compelled government orthodoxy, a greater evil than pedagogical orthodoxy.

There are two sides, one of which wants to sanitize our sin of racism and the other which wants to make it the primary focus of history, where everything is filtered through an anti-racist ideology. Neither is a sustainable vision of America, but laws like Florida’s which attempt to micromanage education are just as unsound as dictating a curriculum based on the  false history of the 1619 Project. How to teach children both the good and bad of our history is a very hard question. How to produce children who aren’t filled with self-loathing as a result is hard as well. But passing laws prohibiting, or requiring, the teaching of unpleasant historical fact or trendy historical fiction isn’t the solution.

33 thoughts on “Law Is Hard; Prohibiting Critical Race Theory Is Bad Law

    1. Elpey P.

      I can’t with this bothsidesism.

      I say there’s four sides. Yours, mine, the truth, and the curriculum.

  1. John Boudet

    There’s nothing particularly remarkable about this law. Someone must establish the public school curriculum. Who gets to set it? The legislature? The state department of education? Local school boards? Principals? Individual teachers? In this case, the legislature has exercised its prerogative to decide one part of the curriculum. As i understand it, the only thing this law does is prohibit teaching—AS AN INDISPUTABLE FACT—that white supremacy is embedded in current American law and society and explains all group disparities in outcomes. That is the core tenet of Critical Race Theory: that white racial discrimination against non-whites explains all group disparities. That’s the ONLY thing this legislation prohibits teaching as fact. It does not prohibit teaching about the horrors of slavery or white supremacy movements , or Jim Crow or any other historical events. It doesn’t even prohibit teaching ABOUT critical race theory as a school of thought or as one approach to understanding historical or current events. It simply bars teachers from instructing students (and forcing students to put down as the “right” answer on an exam) that white supremacy is embedded in every American institution and that “systemic racism” is the sole cause of all outcome disparities among groups.

    1. SHG Post author

      On the one hand, this isn’t about curriculum, which is the subject matter rather than the methodology. On the other hand, your unduly passionate use of ALL CAPS does not control what this law means any more than the other tribe’s claiming that it’s ideological perspective must be taught because it’s true.

    2. Ahaz01

      Actually CRT doesn’t expressly as an “AS AN INDISPUTABLE FACT” that white supremacy is the cause of all the inequity. You can apply it to China, India, even African nations where racism and tribal inequities exist. It is, however, an “INDISPUTABLE FACT” that systemic racism is alive and well in our criminal justice and financial systems. Since when is acknowledging the inequity and failings of our societal systems equate to teaching children to hate each other or hate America? When we teach (sometimes) about the Tulsa massacre or Jim Crow, how can it not be framed in a racial manner? These atrocities happened…..just because and not because a specific group wanted to oppress another? You can’t discuss red-lining without stating that some communities, in concert with lending institutions, want to prevent one group of people from living in the same neighborhoods as others. This is objectively racial supremacy and failing to recognize it perpetuates it. Conservatives rail that CRT teaches hate, yet they don’t produce any examples of any curriculum. Some conservative rail that any acknowledgment of systemic racism is CRT. What’s painfully apparent is this isn’t really an issue about CRT or systemic racism, but rather the perceived political gains that can be made from it.

  2. Paleo

    But they do want to teach CRT and anti-racism and the horribly inaccurate 1619 stuff, they being a material number of teachers and administrators. They want to teach elementary aged children that if they’re white that they are inherently evil and racist- their own version of a racist stereotype. And to teach black kids that they have no chance because they’re eternally oppressed. These people are such zealots that they put their politics ahead of the well being of children.

    It’s overt racism inserted into the educational curriculum. The fact that this stupid law has to be passed is terrible, but how do you stop it absent stupid laws like this? If some backwater district somewhere wanted to teach stereotypes about minorities should we just step aside and let that happen too?

    1. SHG Post author

      But is a law the solution? And if it is, what happens when the other tribe owns the lege. Do they get to pass a law requiring CRT be taught?

      1. John

        At this point I do believe making a law is necessary. If the time comes where a local government passes a law requiring CRT be taught then you have to move.

        Most of the people who are pushing CRT are very racists. If you search CRT on Twitter you will see how fervent and ignorant these people are. There is no reasoning with them and there is no doubt they are raising racist children.

        1. SHG Post author

          “This is bad. We must have a law to prevent it.” Which tribe said this? It’s a trick question.

      2. Rengit

        Isn’t this precisely what California, the most populous state in the nation and also with the absolute highest number of recent arrivals to the US, is doing with their new mandatory multicultural education requirements? And what is currently on the table in New York? And how would county-by-county decisions on this matter, as is being currently done in various safe-D counties in Northern Virginia, be any better, when the public school systems in places like Loudoun County are already falling into extreme divisiveness over these initiatives?

        1. SHG Post author

          What is this an argument for? They are trying to do it so we should too? It’s hard to fight it with factual and reasoned argument, so we need a cool easy trick to trump them? How many supreme court justices should we add?

  3. Paleo

    Probably they do, yes. Aren’t there already laws being considered (in not already passed) dictating that history education be “patriotic”?

    The problem is that the government has slowly been taken over by the extremes of the tribes. People with the most extreme views and the inability to compromise on anything. How do we stop these people from burning it to the ground.

    And more importantly, if I were still the parent of underage children, how can I stop them from messing up my child? Going and ranting at the school board does nothing because either way they think they’re better than me and my disapproval means I’m a fascist/communist.

    1. SHG Post author

      Was this a reply to something? I understand your complaint about CRT, but what you fail to see is that you’re them and they’re you, just on opposite sides. Don’t like what your school board is doing? Run for office. Persuade people with the strength of your ideas. Or take your child out of school and put them into private or charter schools, just as a parent whose child attends a school teaching them only patriotic history.

  4. Elpey P.

    At this point when we hear the phrase “Critical Race Theory” the most appropriate reaction should probably be to grab the popcorn. There’s not likely to be much seriousness to the content regardless of which team is speaking.

    Present company excluded of course.

    1. SHG Post author

      It may be too easy to lapse to into some generalized moral panic, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t real issues worthy of serious concern.

  5. John Boudet

    Asking whether a law is the proper solution begs the question. *Someone* must decide whether public schools should teach children as fact that all American laws and institutions in 2021 are designed to promote and preserve white supremacy. Someone must decide if public schools are to teach children that all group disparities are attributable to race discrimination. Someone must decide whether public schools should teach children that the United States was founded primarily for the purpose of promoting slavery. If the decision to teach those ideas as fact is made by a local school board or by an individual teacher, that doesn’t make it any better. And by the same token, a policy that prohibits public schools from teaching those ideas as established facts is a sound policy. It doesn’t matter whether that policy is established by a law adopted by the state legislature, a regulation adopted by the state board of education, or a policy statement adopted by the local school board. It’s good policy. Teaching the controversy is fine. Presenting the CRT narrative as fact is not.

    1. SHG Post author

      Was this a reply? Why do I even have a reply button? And if you’re going to use “begs the question,” please remember that it’s a logical fallacy.

      Asking whether a law is proper solution is the very much question when laws are being enacted as the answer. Just because there’s a problem does not mean passing a law is the answer. Not for them. Not for you.

  6. Rob McMillin

    The only realistic solution is available at the school district level, i.e. voting out or recalling board members pushing dogmatic CRT as though it were Truth.

    As we don’t teach religion in the public schools (save perhaps in a comparative religion course), CRT seems better talked about as one view among many.

    1. SHG Post author

      As others have argued here, it takes a lot of effort to run for school board, persuade school boards one at a time, fight with school boards. It’s particularly hard when many teachers have been schooled in CRT and anti-racism and believe that it is a holy pedagogical duty to teach their students to be moral, decent and anti-racist. But nobody said local control and oversight of education would be easy.

      And then there’s the democracy problem, that proponents of this ideology will still be elected with the support of their community.

  7. Howl

    You know you’re an old geek when you see “CRT” and right away think “cathode ray tube.”

  8. Sgt. Schultz

    Why do I get the sense you knew this would draw out all the hypocrites who cared nothing about the bad wording, the constitutional implications, the hypocrisy, so that you and the rest of us could see how they reveal themselves the moment they get a chance to play into the syllogism when the moral panic touches their sacred cow?

    1. SHG Post author

      You know me too well. But do they see it or are they just as blind and self-righteous as their counterparts? Few people ever do.

      1. Sgt. Schultz

        What’s morbidly fascinating here is that no one even bothered to parse the language to argue that the law had any potential to be effective in its purpose without violating the 1st A or academic freedom. When it’s their ox gored, such trivialities don’t matter.

  9. B. McLeod

    So, before we are even done with having the courts decide the science of climate change and gender, we are pressing on to legislate (and of course litigate) the correctness of competing versions of history.

    I don’t see how this could possibly go wrong.

  10. Ken Hagler

    I did a bit of searching around to find out how the text of this law was being covered. After a fair bit of searching around, I’ve found that it’s not a law at all, but a rule passed by the Florida State Board of Education, and almost nobody wants us to know what it says. The quote above is from a Slate article which doesn’t include a link to the actual text, so all that tells us is what the Democratic Party wants us to think it says. Thanks to our author for including a link to the actual amendment, so we can see that Slate is lying about what it says.

    1. SHG Post author

      When I began this post, I intended to parse the language of the rule. But as I wrote, I realized that there were no words that could address the problem raised by distinguishing between subject matter and indoctrination, that the various efforts by different states were no closer to a viable law and that this was another instance of people trying to use laws/regs to accomplish something the law could never do because the words invariably fail. Words are not up to the task of such extreme nuance, and so law cannot resolve the problem.

  11. james

    “There are two sides, one of which wants to sanitize our sin of racism and the other which wants to make it the primary focus of history, where everything is filtered through an anti-racist ideology. ”

    Critical Race Theory demands belief, or at least public adherence. Failure to believe is punished (ref previous simple justice post on Kieran Ravi Bhattacharya). In this regards CRT is more akin to teaching a secular religion (i.e. Marxism 2.0). The anti-crt laws are an effort at extending the prohibition against public schools promoting a particular religion to also cover promoting secular belief systems. Suggesting CRT is a teaching method that focuses on race gravely misstates what it is.

    1. SHG Post author

      I realize how hard it is for people to make the distinction between teaching what CRT is and indoctrinating students into CRT. Try to think of it like this: I can teach you about Christianity without turning you into a Christian. The same can be done with CRT. And while CRT is like a religion (as I’ve noted here before), Christianity is a religion. Yet, it can still be taught without indoctrination.

      But even more relevant to the post and the laws, the laws are necessarily so overbroad as to impair teaching about the horrors of American slavery and racism under the guise of prohibiting CRT, and that’s not merely unconstitutional, but unacceptable.

      1. PAV

        Trump’s rescinded EO on race and sex stereotyping and scapegoating ought to be the standard followed for “banning” Critical Race Theory. Which is to say, it ought not be banned at all, and whatever there may have been in his EO on the subject of sex and race stereotyping and scapegoating that was broad enough to impinge on teaching about slavery should be narrowed.

        Though frankly I don’t understand why any of it is needed; we have a Civil Rights Act and a 14th Amendment, are they insufficient to prevent schools from indoctrinating children in the excesses of CRT? Perhaps we ought to start enforcing them as well as trying to revive a culture that respects them.

        1. SHG Post author

          It seems to me that any such racist indoctrination would violate Title VI. The question is whether it’s the indoctrination is held to be racist, and how much damage is done before it reaches that point.

  12. Joseph Masters

    Well, at least Florida isn’t fining anyone $5,000 each time a teacher mentions critical race theory or the like…at least not yet. Hopefully CRT doesn’t become as much as a political football as cruise lines asking for COVID vaccinations and social media metering becomes.

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